Battlefield re-enactments fall victim to New York's new gun laws

Battlefield re-enactments fall victim to New York's new gun laws
Bruce Smith

We’re almost two weeks in to New York’s new gun control regime, and while there’s no sign that the state’s new restrictions on legal gun owners is having any impact on violent crime, the latest laws have put an end, at least for now, to several popular battlefield re-enactments scheduled that have long been a part of their local communities.

According to the Buffalo News, organizers of the Angelica Civil War Re-enactment have announced their cancelling this month’s event after attorneys told them the re-enactment could run afoul of the state’s new restrictions on carrying firearms. Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office maintains that historical events aren’t subject to the state’s new statutes, but that appears to be based more on her own interpretation than the actual text of the legislation.

Under the new laws, the state now prohibits handguns, shotguns and rifles in a wide list of “sensitive locations” which range from schools, government buildings and courts to parks, churches and sidewalks and other public areas where permitted events are taking place.

That’s now considered an E level felony, the lowest level felony which technically can carry a sentence of up to four years in prison.

It’s not entirely clear to re-enactment organizers if the new laws apply to events like the Civil War re-enactment in Angelica which commemorates the 136th New York Volunteer Infantry who fought at Gettysburg or the popular “Siege” held every July at Old Fort Niagara which re-creates a battle between British and French forces during the French and Indian War that took place right there in Youngstown.

Re-enactments are often weekend-long events that draw hundreds of re-enactors and thousands of spectators. The re-enactors wear period costumes and carry replicas of muskets and other historic artillery throughout the day. They generally don’t use the actual antique weapons because those are too fragile. During demonstrations and re-creations of battles, they use blanks – never live ammunition – to the delight of crowds.

The new law spells out that the definition of rifles to include those that use “obsolete ammunition not commonly available in commercial trade, or that load through the muzzle and fire a single projectile with each discharge, or loading, including muzzle loading rifles, flintlock rifles and black powder rifles.”

But it also has exceptions for antique weapons.

It sounds like New York lawmakers made it illegal to conduct any sort of re-enactment with modern black powder rifles, even if they’re designed to appear and function just like antiques. And given the fact that violations of the law could lead to prison time, it’s no wonder that some re-enactment groups are shying away from continuing on with their traditions.

Some, but not all.

Fort Ticonderoga is planning to go ahead with its re-enactment of the 1977 Brown’s Raid on Sept. 17 and 18 as planned, said Beth Hill, the president and CEO of Fort Ticonderoga.

“Absolutely,” she said. “Fort Ticonderoga is staying the course.”

The new laws have “some unintended consequences,” Hill said. But fort officials have been in contact with legislative representatives and “have a commitment that this will be cleared. …. It just needs to be clarified. We’re going to move forward with all of our daily programs and special events.”

The law doesn’t need to be “clarified.” It needs to be repealed. I’m honestly glad to see that the folks at Fort Ticonderoga are proceeding as planned with their re-enactment this coming weekend, but what happens if some anti-gun nut calls the police to report a violation of state law because there are dozens of guys parading around with black powder rifles in public? Local law enforcement may turn a blind eye, but what about the state police? Will they ignore one of the new provisions in state law simply because enforcing it would be inconvenient for the governor’s re-election chances?

Actually, I could see that happening as well. Hochul is trying to sell New Yorkers on the idea that these new restrictions will keep them safe, but so far the rollout has mainly caused chaos and confusion for those hoping to stay on the right side of the law, while violent criminals appear to be untroubled by the crackdown. Honestly, there’s little reason for them to be concerned because New York law has long made it a felony offense to carry without a license, so not much has changed for those with violent criminal intent. Instead it’s the law-abiding who are bearing the brunt of New York’s new restrictions; from moms and dads who want to protect their families in public to historical re-enactors hoping to educate, inspire, and entertain the public.